Meet The Podcast Hosts!

The Divergent Conversations Podcast is hosted by Patrick Casale and Dr. Megan Anna Neff, two AuDHD mental health professionals and entrepreneurs, as well as features other well-known leaders in the mental health, neurodivergent, and neurodivergent-affirming community. Listeners know, like, and trust the content and professionals on this podcast, so when they hear a recommendation on the podcast, they take action.


Episode 54: Rethinking Parenting: Supporting Gender Diverse and Neurodivergent Youth [featuring Lisa Dube]

May 16, 2024
Divergent Conversations Podcast

Show Notes

If you're parenting a neurodivergent child or young adult, you understand that traditional approaches don't always fit. Balancing the unique needs with the world's expectations can feel isolating and overwhelming.

In this episode, Patrick Casale and Dr. Megan Anna Neff, two AuDHD mental health professionals, speak with Lisa Dube, a licensed clinical social worker, a specialist in gender identities and neurodivergence, and the founder of Merrimack River Wellness. They dive into the nuances of parenting, supporting, and understanding neurodivergent children, particularly those exploring their gender identity.

Top 3 reasons to listen to the entire episode:

  1. Gain a deeper understanding of how to recognize and support the fight, flight, freeze, and fawn responses in neurodivergent children, helping you to interpret their behaviors through a more informed and empathetic lens.
  2. Learn from Lisa Dube's insights into the intersection of gender identity and neurodivergence, encouraging a curious and non-judgmental approach to parenting that embraces and respects your child's identity exploration.
  3. Discover practical advice on avoiding the "failure to launch" stereotype and fostering an environment of interdependence through "scaffolding,” particularly useful for parents of neurodivergent young adults who do not fit traditional developmental trajectories.

As you tune into this vital conversation, reflect on how you can bring these strategies into your own family dynamics to support and strengthen the bond with your child. Consider how your parenting approach can evolve not just to cope with, but to actively enrich the journey of raising a neurodivergent child.

More about Lisa Dube, MSW, LICSW

Founder, Merrimack River Wellness

Lisa is neurodivergent and has been a licensed clinical social worker since 1995. Prior to opening her private practice, Lisa worked for the U.S. District Court for more than twenty years, as a treatment specialist. In 2018, she established a private practice focused on the needs of families and individuals navigating gender identity exploration and transition. Over the last few years, Lisa has become passionate about the intersectionality of gender and neurodivergence and has received extensive training in the neurodiversity-affirming paradigm. More recently, Lisa has completed Internal Family Systems (IFS) Level 1 & 2 training and has brought this non-pathologizing lens into her practice. She currently facilitates several groups for parents and for young adults, focused on the intersectionality of gender and neurodivergence. Lisa has a special interest in supporting parents in developing new narratives and ways of connecting with their young adult autistic children who may be challenged with the transition to adulthood. Lisa is licensed to provide clinical services in Massachusetts, Maine, Connecticut, and New Hampshire.


🎙️Listen to more episodes of the Divergent Conversations Podcast here


🎙️YouTube Music
▶️ YouTube

A Thanks to Our Sponsors: Madam Clutterbuckets Neurodiverse Universe, Freed, The Receptionist for iPad

 Madam Clutterbuckets Neurodiverse Universe:

I want to thank Madam Clutterbuckets for sponsoring this episode.

This family-owned business has created a store that not only celebrates the value of neurodiversity but also employs neurodivergent workers. They sell disability advocacy merchandise, work from neurodivergent artists, and products from companies that employ neurodivergent workers. They also have curated vintage oddities, fidgets, and outrageous merch that makes you laugh out loud. They are located in downtown Asheville, North Carolina, or you can check them out at, and use code GIMME10 for 10% off $25 purchases or more.

✨ Freed:

I want to thank Freed for sponsoring this episode.

Being a clinician in today's medical or mental health care field can be so overstimulating. It can be so hard to focus on clients as well as take adequate notes. Freed.AI listens, transcribes, and writes medical documentation for you, written in your style and ready the moment the visit is over. No more overstimulation or letting things fall through the cracks. Freed is HIPAA compliant, secure, and takes less than 30 seconds to learn. More importantly, Freed supports your executive function skills, so you can get back to doing what you love — helping your clients. 

Go to and use code DCPOD for your first month free.

✨ The Receptionist for iPad:

I want to thank The Receptionist for iPad for sponsoring this episode.

The Receptionist offers an iPad list check-in option where clients can scan a QR code to check in, which negates the need for you to buy an iPad and stand. Go to and sign up for a free 14-day trial. When you do, you'll get your first month free. And don't forget to ask about our iPad list check-in option.



PATRICK CASALE: Hey, everyone. You are listening to the Divergent Conversations podcast. We are two neurodivergent mental health professionals in a neurotypical world. I'm Patrick Casale.

MEGAN NEFF: And I'm Dr. Neff.

PATRICK CASALE: And during these episodes, we do talk about sensitive subjects, mental health, and there are some conversations that can certainly feel a bit overwhelming. So, we do just want to use that disclosure and disclaimer before jumping in. And thanks for listening.

If you're looking to grow your business and get in front of a new audience, Divergent Conversations is accepting new sponsors for the 2024 seasons. We already have over 300,000 downloads and counting all over the world. And this podcast is growing all of the time.

The beauty of podcast sponsorship is that you can get live, pre-roll, or mid-roll opportunities where we will read your ad on air while recording, getting you in front of a new audience every single week. You have the opportunity to sponsor one month of episodes at a time where you'll get four episodes in total or you can sponsor an entire year and be the exclusive sponsor of Divergent Conversations.

This is a podcast that's being distributed all over the world. The analytics are fantastic. The podcast is growing. And it is a very captive audience. Reach out to us directly via the link in our website at or email us at [email protected], and we can get started on your sponsorship journey.

PATRICK CASALE: Hey, everyone. You are listening to another episode of the Divergent Conversations podcast. Today we have… Actually, Lisa, you know what? I didn't even ask you how to pronounce your last name. Is it Dube? Dube?




PATRICK CASALE: Lisa Dube. And MSW and LICSW. The founder of Merrimack River Wellness, a neurodivergent clinical social worker since 1995 you've been in practice. So, prior to opening her private practice, Lisa worked for the US District Court for more than 20 years as a treatment specialist. And since that time, you've established a private practice focusing on the needs of families and individuals navigating gender identity exploration and transition. And it sounds like since that time becoming really passionate about that intersection of gender and neurodivergence.

So, today, we are going to talk about some of that. But we're also going to talk about, you had mentioned before we started recording, when you are parenting an autistic kiddo or teen traditional parenting goes out the window. And I think that is a great segue into what you feel really passionate about.

And please tell the audience if I missed anything in your bio that feels important to share and why that topic is so important to you.

LISA DUBE: Yeah, so for me, it's been a lot of trial by fire because I'm also the parent of a neurodivergent and trans young person. And so, a lot of what I know today is from doing a lot wrong and realizing-

MEGAN NEFF: I can relate.

LISA DUBE: …realizing during that process that it doesn't work. So, rigid, authoritarian parenting with neurodivergent young adults, the model doesn't apply.

And honestly, when you really start going down that path it really causes you to question a lot of the traditional parenting beliefs anyway.

MEGAN NEFF: Absolutely, absolutely. I see this come up a lot. And so, I run a community. And in the community, there's a lot of parents. And we meet monthly. And this comes up a lot.

And both the combination of, like, parental shame of the years we didn't know both typically, both about our own neurodivergence, but also our children. And the years of confusion of like, really, I know for me, like, I read so many parenting books, and trying them, and being like, "Why isn't this working for me?" And then, again, that that also induces like, the problem must be me because all these books are saying do this thing and it's not working. It can be a really helpless, shame-filled experience.

LISA DUBE: Yeah, something that's really helped me is I've also gone down the path of being an IFS therapist. I'm not sure if you're familiar with internal family systems.

MEGAN NEFF: I love IFS. Yes, yes.


LISA DUBE: And so, once I went down that path, it even helped me further because what really became clear is how much my parts, so the IFS model says that we're all comprised of parts. And our parts, oftentimes, have positive intentions that we're not aware of that are based on sort of beliefs that we might have taken on, based on our own history and experiences.

And what I came to see was so much of how I viewed parenting, and particularly, my own parenting journey was about my own unhealed parts around my experiences of being a neurodivergent young person, what that was like, and then also wanting your child to be happy.


LISA DUBE: I think if you ask any parent what they want, I think, invariably, parents would say that their primary goal is for their child to be happy.

MEGAN NEFF: Absolutely. First of all, I love that you're bringing in parts. And also, the idea around our unhealed parts because you know, that I think a lot about the multi-generational process around trauma that gets passed down in neurodivergent families. And I think that's such a big part of it is, you know, neurodivergent kids typically have a neurodivergent parent, often unaware, although, thankfully, that's starting to change.

But how the parts of us that we've either repressed or that we have wounds about, of course, we're going to continue to, if we don't heal through that project that on to our kids.

Like, I know, for me, it was really helpful when I could finally name this. So, I'm a parent of a PDAer. And when I felt like my child wasn't listening to me, especially, when they were much younger, that activated a part of me of like I'm not heard, I'm not taking seriously, which is a, like, deeply wounded neurodivergent part for me. And so, that would activate my stuff. And then, of course, show up in my parenting. It gets so messy so fast.

LISA DUBE: And I think the biggest takeaway from that example that you gave is, as parents, when we can learn to give some space and not personalize our children's behavior, it is life-changing.

MEGAN NEFF: Absolutely.

LISA DUBE: When we realize that their behavior is not about us, it's not about us being a bad parent it just frees up so much space and it's so liberating to just try to be present for your child. And let me say that, that is certainly not 100%, that there's always going to be parts that are activated. But if you can sort of just pay attention and notice when it is you, you know?

So, you know, I have a 20-year-old who is an amazing, bright, young man. And his journey around going to college has been very circuitous. You know, at first, it was engineering, got accepted to a bunch of engineering schools. And then that spring said, "I don't want to do that." Took a few gap years, wanted to do music, went to New York City, played jazz, and came to find out that that isn't what he wants to do, either.

And it's really hard in those moments not to have parts that are activated, like, "Oh, my gosh, what does my child's future look like? They don't have it figured out."

And when we can get our parts to step back and say it's okay, we can give space for them to explore, and figure it out, and we can support them, it just changes everything. But it's so hard.

MEGAN NEFF: Yeah, yeah. It is hard. It is hard. And I agree. So, I went to get my doctorate when my kids were five and three. And I trained a lot. My voice, okay. I trained a lot in ACT, acceptance commitment therapy, and then some IFS. And both of these are models that help you to step out of your experience enough to notice it. And then to have a different relationship to it. And I noticed my parenting changed so much after that.

And it is so hard, especially, when our nervous systems have been like, you know, just kind of hijacked for a ride, which happens with, you know, nervous systems that connect to one another. But that has made such a difference, that ability to step outside and kind of dissenter my experience.

LISA DUBE: Yeah, and I think in the parent groups that I do because I do a parent group that is for parents of neurodivergent and trans adults over age 18, and a very common refrain is this term failure to launch which I despise. I don't use that language at all. But it's a common-

MEGAN NEFF: I was going to ask you about launch language, in general.

LISA DUBE: Yeah, I think it's very ableist. And I think that a big part of the challenges that parents face when their children don't follow sort of a linear path, is the role that sort of ableism plays. So, they call it something like failure to launch or not being able to adult. And it really is not helpful.

You know, we really need to really be more present for what's happening, looking at the developmental stage of our child, and looking at what's going on versus automatically coming to an assumption that at 18 years old, 19 years old, young adults should have things figured out. I think it's really rare that they do even when they're neurotypical and you add the-

MEGAN NEFF: I was just thinking, yeah.

LISA DUBE: Yeah, you add the neurodivergence piece, and even if there's a gender identity piece. And we've got to provide more space for that developmental process. And just more, I call it scaffolding [CROSSTALK 00:12:49]-

MEGAN NEFF: I like that.

LISA DUBE: …parts that I worth with.

MEGAN NEFF: Yeah, I was going to ask what language you prefer, like as an alternative. I really like scaffolding.

LISA DUBE: Yeah, scaffolding, I think, originated more in the education community. But I really like it as a way to think about supporting young adults because I really don't like this other language that people use called enabling.

MEGAN NEFF: So, yeah, and this comes up a lot. And I will get pulled into, like, thinking spirals around this. And I'm sure you have heard this question of, like, the question of how do we support without enabling?

And I'm guessing that you don't even like the premise of that question because of the use of enabling. But I know that that question comes up a lot. And it's something also, I don't love the language of enabling, but it's the idea of, am I effectively building scaffolding? I think that is something that I do think a lot about.

LISA DUBE: Yeah, and another term that sort of connected to that, that I really like, is interdependence rather than independence, looking at there being some ways that we support, and it not always being consistent over time, depending on the energy level that somebody has, whether they're in burnout, you know, is going to determine how much support a person might need.

So, it might be different when somebody's thriving and not in burnout, versus when somebody's having a hard time. And I think being really cognizant of that is important because if you just paint one brush to this idea that, "Oh, this person can do this, they should be able to do it all the time." That's where I think we really run into trouble because we know that when we think about energy and spoons for neurodivergent people, sometimes they can't do things that they do other times.

And I think most of the time, what helps me is I believe, sort of like around the Mona Delahooke stuff, the Ross Green stuff. I think that kids and individuals want to do well. And I think if we start from that premise, I assume that I'm not giving support or help to somebody, and that that is enabling. I'm assuming that is because of the person needs it in that moment.

PATRICK CASALE: I like that perspective because I think that, you know, it's kind of much more from a strengths-based perspective and saying, this is what my child, or teen, or young adult needs in this moment, and they're not being manipulative, they're not trying to get something from me, they're not trying to persuade me to do something. It's just like, like you said, Lisa, the acknowledgement is sometimes we're going to have the spoons are the capacity or not. And sometimes we're going to really struggle in certain ways that we haven't struggled in the past. And it's taking that zoom-out lens instead of, like, always being in the thick of what's going on and just being in reaction mode, I think.

LISA DUBE: Yeah, and I think thinking about sort of your child's sensory profile is so important too because I think about growing up, sort of not necessarily having very much scaffolding and having to figure it out on my own. And sort of being given the message that that's how it's supposed to be. You're not supposed to ask for help, you're supposed to be self-sufficient.

And it's wonderful to be able to do so many things. But I also think that there is a trauma piece that's attached to that you had to do it and it wasn't a choice.

And so, when I think about it from that perspective, I think, I have a child that has some communication challenges. And if there are instances in which I can support him around those communication challenges, why would I not do that? Why would I be insistent that he has to do it all the time when it's really, really hard for him?


MEGAN NEFF: And I think that, oh, go ahead, Patrick.


MEGAN NEFF: I was just going to say I really like also how you're emphasizing and I think this confuses a lot of people, but the fluctuating needs, and of course, that's going to fluctuate. And I think, especially, for autistic people that don't have an intellectual disability that really confuses systems. And it confuses people of like, why can you do this one day, but not another day? And I could see how that could activate a lot of parts for parents of like, you could put on your shoes yesterday. So today, does that mean you're being defiant if you're not doing it? Versus the needs have ebbed and flowed?

LISA DUBE: Yeah. And I think, for me, that's where a lot of the, sort of the IFS, the curious part, you know, when it seems like your child is having a hard time with something, you know, can you get curious with them about what's happening for them? You know, this is hard for you right now, would you like my support? Can I help you with, you know, making an appointment that you need to make that is really hard for you?

I just think we get so caught up in this idea that we shouldn't do things for people because they need to be independent. I don't think at the end of the day it helps the relationship that we have with our children.

MEGAN NEFF: So, can I throw kind of a hard one at you because I know that this is one that has stumped me. So, like a scenario where, okay, let's say there's a young adult, and maybe they have tried some community college, or tried college, or tried a part-time job. And maybe it starts as a burnout season, but then they end up in kind of a cycle of maybe multiple years where they spend most the day in their room, on their device-

LISA DUBE: Gaming?

MEGAN NEFF: What did you say?

LISA DUBE: Gaming?

MEGAN NEFF: Gaming or on their device and then develop a mental health condition. So, depression, anxiety. And then, so the family is supporting the young adult, and they're feeling stressed around like, they have no interest in moving toward part-time work or schooling. And they seem really depressed but also kind of aren't taking any steps toward addressing that. What do I do?

And in my mind, as a psychologist, I'm like, okay, I'm thinking about burnout. I'm thinking about PDA. But I am also thinking about like, okay, there's some pretty powerful reinforcing loops here around what is now, like, also a mental health condition on top of that, and that's where I'm like, "Okay, this is complicated."

LISA DUBE: Yeah, and when I did a training with Finn Gratton, myself, and another clinician named Laurie Crowley, who was in California, did a presentation on parenting neurodivergent children and young adults.

And Laurie, I call it the magic question, and it has to be done without judgment. But this is the question, and I have it written down and I share it with all my sort of families and parents that I work with. The question is to the child, how are you going to support yourself in what you want to do? Which could be gaming, working part-time, whatever the case may be, being online when I, your parent, am not here? How do I help you get there?

And it could mean applying for public programs. And I think that can be really hard. But these are the conversations that I think parents need to be having with young adults, sort of, like you described is, okay, you know, for whatever reason you're not able to go to school and work right now, what do we need to do next? And really getting the individual to be part of collaborating for that process around what does the future look like? And how [CROSSTALK 00:22:17]-

MEGAN NEFF: I love that. I love that question. And it's because you're inviting a kind of generative creative conversation. You're not making like, okay, you've got to do a part-time job, or part-time school, or this, it's really a generative, let's think on this together. I like that a lot. It's a great question.

LISA DUBE: Yeah. And I think at the same time, you know, for parents, there's a grief process that, you know, my child's life might not look the way that I thought it was going to. And how do I still support them and help them lead an engaged life that, again, might not look the way that I thought it was, but could still be meaningful for that person?

You know, one of the things that I do is supervision group with Finn and we talk about how some young adult autistics might not be able to do like a 40-hour job. And-

MEGAN NEFF: Oh, I know, very few autistic adults who could do a 40-hour job, absolutely.

LISA DUBE: And the gig economy.

MEGAN NEFF: Yeah, I think the gig economy is going to open so many doors, or it has opened so many doors for neurodivergent people.

LISA DUBE: And so, what success look like, for instance, getting some support, whether it be SSI, and then perhaps supplementing that with some gig economy work, you know? For some people that might be a great life.

PATRICK CASALE: Yeah. And it's also like we're not assigning these expectations societally of like, this is what you're supposed to be doing by this age developmentally, or in order to live under my roof, or in order to have a relationship, you need to do A, B, and C.

And it gives so much more autonomy, right, to say, how can I support you? How can I ensure that you feel like you're getting your needs met and we're working on this together as a team? Instead of it feeling really siloed and having there be a lot of disconnection within the household or in the family unit too.

LISA DUBE: Yeah, because I typically see when parents are coming to me, a very high level of frustration, disconnection with their child. You know, there's anger and there isn't very much of a relationship.

And one of the things that, you know, when Laurie and I gave our training was talking about, can you focus on the connection that you have with your child and can the other stuff be secondary, that when you can focus on your connection with your child, some of the other stuff can then be collaborated on, and discussed in a way that it can't, when you're coming from a demand/ [INDISCERNIBLE 00:26:29] place, right?

So, if you're coming from the place of you can't live here if you're going to be in your room on your computer all the time, you have to do A, B and C, you know, it's creating pretty big barriers. It's also creating so much shame and guilt for the young person who, you know, may not be able to do something different in that moment.

So, again, I think whenever you can, if you can focus on a relationship, some of that other stuff can be secondary.

MEGAN NEFF: Absolutely. Yeah, that makes so much sense because you need… I just froze up there, because you need that high trust and relationship to have some of these harder conversations and to be coming from a place of kind of understanding and trust. It would be such different conversations outside of a sense of trust, and a sense of everyone is looking at this with the best interest of the child in mind.

LISA DUBE: Yeah, yeah. And I think too, one of the challenges for me has been, you know, what if my child doesn't go to college? You know, what if they don't have it all figured out?

And my spouse had one time said, you know, "Oh, our child is going to be 35, living in our basement." And I said, "How did we get from 20 to 35. That's a 15-year period."

And what I said was, "I think we need to stay in this moment. And if that happens, we'll deal with it at the time." If we can problem solve in the moment versus telling the story of what's going to happen in the future, and trying to figure out the solution in the future, I think we're so much better off.

MEGAN NEFF: Yeah, that's something I talk a lot about, and that's again, one of those things that's been so helpful with, like, if a child was having a hard moment, or a hard day, or a meltdown, like the scripts, identify the scripts that are playing it, for me, who and I do have some anxiety, I'm just kind of anxious person. And there's a lot of future casting of this is what it will mean for my child's future or… And so, I hear that a lot too, of like, "Child will be 30."

And so catching those scripts when they start to play, and then bringing it back to the present, I really like that too. Because then that fear kicks in, right? And I think a lot of us do parent from a place of fear a lot of the time when we're parenting neurodivergent kids, understandably.


MEGAN NEFF: And I know, like some of my moments where I felt the most panicky and where I've shown up in a way that I'm not proud of it's because I'm in my fear.

LISA DUBE: Yeah. And that fear part, oftentimes, has a pretty big reaction. And it's just trying to help. I mean, I think the other piece is, you know, when you have that reaction because it's normal to feel that way sometimes, how can you have some compassion for that part that is sort of showing up and trying to help?

And I think one of the biggest things that I like, too, is that I can make a mistake as a parent, and go back and do the repair later with my child, right? So, there's lots of parenting things that I've done that I'm not proud of. But I can go back and apologize.

MEGAN NEFF: Yeah, yeah. I think it was Gottman who when I first read about like, kind of the science around what matters most is like the ability to repair. And that was so empowering to read as a parent that, and I guess I'll fill it in for listeners, it's the idea that what matters more than avoiding ruptures is, is there the capacity to repair?

And that has helped me so much of like, okay, that is something. I can't show up perfectly as a parent all the time. But I can always name when I don't show up perfectly and I can repair.

And I think, especially, for those of us with all-or-nothing thinking that is really tempting to be like, and a lot of us are breaking generational cycles of trauma, right? So, there's all that added pressure of like, I have to be perfect in how I show up. But kind of shifting the focus to you get to repair and you get to do it well.

LISA DUBE: Yeah. And kids don't need perfect parents. You know [CROSSTALK 00:31:32]-

MEGAN NEFF: No, good enough. Yeah, we need a good enough mother. That's one of my favorite ideas from Winnicott, yeah.

PATRICK CASALE: I would have taken good enough and accountability opposed to perfection any day as a child and teenager and young adult with my parents.


MEGAN NEFF: Absolutely.

LISA DUBE: You know, I think one of the other traps that parents tend to find themselves in is that comparison trap is, you know, again, we're in a time where there's so much messaging on social media about, you know, my child's going to college, my child is doing this, you know? I think we really have to be careful not to be comparing our children to peers, and really just staying with where our child is.

MEGAN NEFF: And that gets back to what you said earlier about grief. Like, sometimes we do need to grieve the life that perhaps we wanted for our child. And I always, it's a delicate line, right? Like, I often talk with parents shortly after child's diagnosis of you can both absolutely be an affirming parent of their, like, a neurodivergent affirming parent, and have your experiences of fear and grief. And like knowing that your child will face hardships that you had not imagined for them.

But I think, especially, when you're kind of anchored in the neurodivergent affirming space, it can feel really uncomfortable to name our parental grief around that. But I think that comparison is sometimes that signal too. Maybe there's some grief to work through here.

LISA DUBE: Yeah, yeah. And I think, I encourage parents to really find a space where they can voice that.

MEGAN NEFF: Otherwise, it's going to come out, it's going to come out toward the child. And that's exactly what I do is like, you need a space where you can prove this so that it doesn't come out in those interactions, so that those parts don't show up and take over.

LISA DUBE: Right, because I think it does your child a disservice for you to share that with your child.

MEGAN NEFF: Oh, absolutely. Yes, that is not the space for it. No, no. Yeah.

LISA DUBE: Yeah. And I think parenting is probably the hardest job that nobody really teaches you how to do.

MEGAN NEFF: There are a lot of books that will try to teach you. But yeah. And it's interesting, especially, in the US, where we're such a kind of interesting mix of so many different cultures. Like, I remember reading Raising Bebe. It's a French book. And I remember just having this experience of, there are a lot of cultures that have a parenting culture. And in the US, it almost feels like we have more like parenting ideology wars, perhaps because we lack a solid culture of like, this is how raise children. So, I've noticed that.

And I've often been envious of cultures that have like a really distinct way. And I'm not saying the French way, that was the association that got me thinking about it. But cultures where it's like, there is a way to raise children versus here it's like, well, what kind of parent are you?

And even before discovering neurodivergent, it was like, are you an attachment parent? And I dabbled in all of all of them. And then it becomes more of an ideological, yeah, like war of, well, can we be friends with your family? What kind of parenting do you do?

LISA DUBE: I think the other thing is this idea that there's even one right way. I think, you know, even when parents come to me, and they're doing something that they're questioning if it's right or wrong, I don't even feel that it's my job to tell them it's right or wrong. I can sort of give them some ideas. But at the end of the day, I feel like parents know their kids best. And they are the people that should be making parenting decisions, not other people telling them how to parent because sometimes, you know, you know what your kid needs.

MEGAN NEFF: Absolutely. I like that.

PATRICK CASALE: I mean, I'm not a parent, so I can't speak to like any of this from a different perspective. But I feel like when we're reaching for books, and we're reading all the things, and we're in all the Facebook groups, it's a lot of the time it's out of like desperation, right? Because you're like, "I really do want to be the best parent I can be."

And then we kind of get like, flooded with all of this outside perspective. And then all of a sudden you start like second-guessing your innate ability to just like you said, Lisa, like, just trust your gut, trust your instincts like, and just really tap into the fact that you want to be a good parent. And I think that gets lost so often, especially, in our culture.

LISA DUBE: Yeah, I think one of the other things that you can do as a parent of a neurodivergent child is really educate yourself about positive autistic culture so that you can really model that because being autistic or being neurodivergent isn't a bad thing. And there is a pathology paradigm out there that we sometimes get messages about, and how do we counteract that, and really teach our children about different brain styles, and really embracing the brain that they have because there's plenty of positive things as well.

And so, if you are the parent of a child, who is neurodivergent, the more education that you can get about what that means from the neurodiversity-affirming perspective, that's a gift to your child.

MEGAN NEFF: Absolutely, absolutely. I think how, like, neurodivergence is talked about in the home, how it's even disclosed to the child if they're diagnosed at an age where parents are disclosing this to them, at some point, like, that has so much impact for how that child is going to take that in and internalize that identity.

LISA DUBE: Yeah, yeah, yeah. And like I said, I think there's just such amazing culture that oftentimes people don't realize that they can connect to where they really have a place and a space with their people.

MEGAN NEFF: Yeah, I mean, Patrick and I talked about that a lot. Like, that's been huge of our later in life discoveries, finding autistic culture, finding our people. I think that's so huge. Yeah.


MEGAN NEFF: So, I know that you also specialize in this intersection of neurodivergence and gender? Is it gender expansiveness or trans, specifically, where you specialize?

LISA DUBE: It's primarily any gender identity that might not fit the binary [CROSSTALK 00:39:31]-

MEGAN NEFF: Kind of gender queerness?

LISA DUBE: Yeah. It's all of that.

MEGAN NEFF: Yeah, I like gender queerness because it captures like the wide umbrella. Yeah. Are there things about the experience of teens and young adults who have these intersecting identities that we haven't talked about that might be relevant?


MEGAN NEFF: It's really a vague question. It's a terrible question.

LISA DUBE: It's okay. I'm thinking about how often parents come to me with a child that has a gender-expansive, gender-queer trans identity, and doesn't realize that their child is neurodivergent.

MEGAN NEFF: Yes, so Rebecca and I, Rebecca Miner is someone who's the gender specialist, we found each other because she was specializing with gender expansive youth, I was specialized in a neurodivergence. I started realizing like, "Oh, a lot of the people I work with are queer and genderqueer." She started realizing, "Oh, a lot of people I work with are neurodivergent." So, we kind of met in the middle.

And so, it's been really interesting to see these two fields, I'm seeing more and more people who are really, truly specializing in this intersection. But yes, I imagine that you see that a lot.

LISA DUBE: So, I will often have parents come to me that are having a hard time navigating their child coming out. But almost invariably, there's other stuff going on that is connected to neurodivergence.

MEGAN NEFF: Absolutely. Yeah.

LISA DUBE: And so, helping them sort of explore sort of how those pieces connect, and helping them shift sort of their expectations can be really helpful.

You know, one of the things that we talk a little bit about is sort of non-traditional relationships. Another sort of common, within the parent groups that I facilitate, a lot of parents have kids that, for instance, might be in polyamorous relationships, or, you know, maybe their child is asexual. So, sort of just discussing… so, the gender identity piece with some of those other pieces because again, I think this is my opinion only, I think if you have a child whose gender doesn't comport with the binary, that you should be curious about neurodivergence.

MEGAN NEFF: Oh, I agree. Absolutely. I think I've said that, places I think you should regularly screen and vice versa. Like, when one of them is present, you should screen for the other because they co-occur so commonly.

LISA DUBE: Yeah. And I think the research right now is like six to nine times. But honestly, in my experience, I think those numbers are too low.

MEGAN NEFF: Well, and yeah, I looked at that study that I think that that comes from, and I think the researchers were even saying that that was just among officially diagnosed autistic people. And we know that, especially, so many in the genderqueer community remain unidentified. So, yeah, I'm sure that number's much higher.

LISA DUBE: Yeah. And I think for a lot of parents who are trying to make sense of their child's gender identity, when you can do some psychoeducation around the neurodivergence piece, sometimes things really begin to make sense for them.

MEGAN NEFF: Yeah. And I hadn't thought about this in this way before, but I could imagine how, like, the presence of gender queerness could kind of overshadow some of the neurodivergent traits.

So, like, if the child is struggling in school or socially, it'd be really natural to attribute it to other factors versus like, oh, that's because of autism or ADHD. So, I imagine there is some diagnostic, okay, diagnostic overshadowing, I don't like using the word diagnostics, these are identities. But this overshadowing of experience that would happen probably a lot of the time if parents haven't learned about neurodivergence.

LISA DUBE: Yeah, and particularly, when you look at sort of low support need, autistics, a lot of those individuals, you know, are very bright academically, so nobody thinks that they can be neurodivergent. And then we have the whole cohort of people that are assigned female at birth, who rarely get an autism diagnosis because it presents differently. And then you've just got this whole sort of group of people that I think doesn't get some of the attention that would be helpful to them.

MEGAN NEFF: Absolutely.

PATRICK CASALE: Definitely feels like curiosity is the word that we keep coming back to in this episode. And just really staying curious as a parent about your child and their experiences leads to significantly more connection and collaboration in the household. And I think that's just an important takeaway that I just keep thinking about as we're talking.

LISA DUBE: Yeah, that's beautifully stated. I think that's right on.

MEGAN NEFF: That's a great through line. Yeah, both because you also talked about the curious parts, like being able to start with being curious toward the parts that are activated for the parent, and then being curious about the child, and leaning in with curiosity, having these generative, curious questions or conversations. Yeah.

LISA DUBE: Yeah. And I think when we're curious and not coming from a place of judgment, it's received so much differently from our children, right?

MEGAN NEFF: Mm-hmm (affirmative).

LISA DUBE: Because I can think about the times where I've been sort of more directive and had an agenda in what I wanted to know, and how that doesn't tend to go well.

MEGAN NEFF: Yes, I have so many memories flooding right now. It does not tend to go well in our household either.

LISA DUBE: Also, I recommend your podcast a lot. I think it's a really great resource for individuals and families that are learning about autism. I love the perspective, the topics that you have. So, again, I just want to say that I appreciate the work that you're doing.

MEGAN NEFF: Oh, thank you. That means a lot. Yeah, some of my favorite emails I get from people are when they're parents who are, again, they're curious, and so they're wanting to understand their kids, and so they listen. That always means a lot to me if the conversations we have here can help parents to understand the inner world of their child a little bit better.

PATRICK CASALE: Absolutely. Thank you for sharing that.

LISA DUBE: So, one other thing that I want to mention that I think a lot of parents don't necessarily understand and familiarize themselves with, is really understanding sort of the whole fight/flight/freeze/fawn response and figuring out sort of what your child's sort of relational style is, and not making assumptions. The more that you can understand about that with your child, the easier it's going to be for you to support your children.

So, people assume that, you know, not answering is ignoring when often it can be shut down. And just really learning a little bit more.

Sally Cat has a guide to PDA that lists evolutionary adrenaline responses that I really like. And she talks about fight/flight/freeze/flop/fawn/fib, and funster.

So, I think it can be really helpful for parents to learn just about some of the biological response that particular neurodivergent individuals can have.

MEGAN NEFF: Absolutely, I think that understanding, again, and the thing we can do that helps us get out of that narrative that, you know, my child is choosing this or they're intentionally being defiant. And I think understanding nervous system states is such an empowering lens for understanding that. Yeah, I think back to, again, my early parenting that would have been so helpful to understand.

And also, like, when children are in that, and I think this happens, especially, to PDA children, like, sometimes there would be a meltdown where my child was stuck in like a flight and freeze response at the same time, which I think is especially like, A, triggering for the parent, and also, it's just really confusing. So, again, contextualizing these as a stress day, and then knowing our children are going to have those more sensitive nervous system that's going to flip into a stress state so much more easily.

And I like the addition, I've seen those floating around social media, the flop and I didn't know it came from Sally Cat's work, I'm going to have to check that book out.

LISA DUBE: And I really appreciate your sort of naming your experience of, you know, wishing that you knew things. If I knew when my children were young what I know today, I am always curious about what kind of parent I would have been because I certainly have parts that regret that I didn't know this information. And then, I told myself, I was doing the best that I could in that moment because there can be sort of this spiral around when you don't know, and you feel like you've made mistakes.

And that sort of goes back to what you mentioned about our kids not needing perfect parents, that it is okay to make mistakes.

I was recently having a conversation with my older son around an experience that he had when he was well 12, in which I had a pretty punitive response. And I said to him, you know, if I had to do over again, I wouldn't respond that way.

MEGAN NEFF: I love that response.

LISA DUBE: Yeah. Because I think it was really hard for both of us. And I thought that I was doing the right thing. But I think now that I could have handled that with more compassion, and I sort of shared that with him.

PATRICK CASALE: I think just sharing that though, in present day, like, looking back at it together, and just saying, like, I'm owning that, I'm taking some accountability for that goes a long way for parents who are listening who are like, "Yeah, I would like to do that over I wish I had known this sooner." But I think if you're learning and really trying to incorporate this into your day-to-day, it goes a hell of a long way comparatively to like certainly parents out there who don't do those things 30 years later, or 20, or 10, or five, or one.

So, I think that's just important too, to name, like, Megan naming the grief of not knowing or wishing I had known more, you saying that. Like, those are big statements, I think as parents in general who are often so critical and hard on themselves for their parenting styles and abilities. So, just coming back to that, like I was doing the best I could and I learned from this, and I wouldn't replicate it or do it again is a huge statement.

LISA DUBE: Yeah, yeah.

MEGAN NEFF: Yeah, you also mentioned relational styles. So, you mentioned nervous system states, but by that do you mean like attachment style or were you referring to something else?

LISA DUBE: I think I'm just referring to sort of, I might be confusing the question. But I think I'm just referring to really noticing your child's sensory system.

MEGAN NEFF: Okay. Yeah, yeah.

LISA DUBE: And, you know, even like thinking about things around, you know, my older son has some issues with food. You know, earlier on the flight would have been like, you need to try that, you need to do that. Now that I know that this is his sensory system, I can be more kind and forgiving around, no, you don't have to try asparagus.

MEGAN NEFF: Yeah, yeah. Absolutely. I feel like I talk about this, like, I like get tired of hearing myself talk about it because I talk about it all the time. But I'm talking about, like, the idea of cultivating a sensory lens where you're just always considering the sensory whether it's food, or whether it's a transition, or whether it's a demand-avoidant thing. And that has made such a huge difference in our family. Like, now the default, you know, yeah, if it's a food thing, if it's a school thing, if it's like, oh, what are the sensory demands here? And like, that's the default. That's where we start with considering why something is not working. And that has made a world of difference.

And I think that probably is harder for parents who don't have sensory sensitivities. Because for me, it's just like, I get it. It's like, yep, okay, we're not going to push that.

LISA DUBE: Yeah. And I think, again, that's where that sort of like, the more you can learn from, particularly, people with lived experience, I think the more you can be present for your child, whether or not you have a, you know, autistic neurotype.

MEGAN NEFF: Absolutely, absolutely. Yeah.

PATRICK CASALE: I'm going to start the awkward goodbye process because I feel like we're in that process of just-

LISA DUBE: Yeah, that's good with me.

PATRICK CASALE: [CROSSTALK 00:54:06] that intense energy of that right now. So, I think this was great. I love this conversation. I want to have more conversations, honestly, about the parenting dynamics because an hour really doesn't encapsulate all of this stuff. So, I just want to thank you for sharing.

And Megan, thank you for sharing too because I think there's vulnerability in this too, as the parenting perspective. And I just really appreciate being a part of that conversation too.

MEGAN NEFF: Mm-hmm (affirmative).

LISA DUBE: Thank you for providing me the opportunity to share.

PATRICK CASALE: Yeah, absolutely. I didn't know where this was going to go today. We never really do. So, I think that's the great thing about the lack of structure sometimes.

Lisa, would you mind just sharing with the audience who's listening and we'll include this in the show notes for everyone too, any of your information, how people can contact you, how people can work with you, or anything that you have coming up? That'd be great.

LISA DUBE: So, primarily, I put a lot of information and resources on my website. And there is a section on there that has information on IFS, parenting, gender identity, autism, neurodivergence. So, my website is www.merrimackriverwellness.comall one word. And Merrimack is spelt with a C-K.

MEGAN NEFF: Do you run parenting groups. I think I saw that on there.

LISA DUBE: Yeah, I do.

MEGAN NEFF: I often see that parents are looking for that. And is that across states across?

LISA DUBE: Well, right now I'm licensed in Maine, Massachusetts, Connecticut, and New Hampshire. So, I do it for those states. I do offer like, sort of short-term coaching for parents who might be in a state that I'm not licensed in, but I don't currently offer any sort of purely psycho-educational groups that are not therapeutic at all. So, I am restricted to the states that I'm licensed in.

MEGAN NEFF: Okay, okay. Yeah, yeah. I know people are often looking for that. But I interrupted your flow.


PATRICK CASALE: Good question because I mean, licensure restrictions are frustrating, for a lot of reasons. So, we will link that in the show notes for everyone listening so that you have access to Lisa's information, and you can check out her resources on her web page, too. And if you live in one of those four northeastern states, then definitely get in touch as well.

Yeah, thank you so much for coming on and sharing some of your advice and your story. We really appreciate your time.

LISA DUBE: Thank you, and thank you for all that you do.

PATRICK CASALE: And to everyone listening to the Divergent Conversations podcast episodes are out on Fridays on all major podcast platforms and YouTube. Like, download, subscribe, and share. And we will see you next week.

Join Patrick & Dr. Neff's Newsletters

Get more valuable resources and stay up to date on offers.

We will not spam you and you and unsubscribe at any time.

Join the Neurodivergent Insights Newsletter by Dr. Megan Anna Neff.

Learn More

Join the All Things Private Practice Newsletter by Patrick Casale.

Learn More